5Ws+1H: How It's Done: Mechanic gives advice on preventing cars from overheating

A line of cars stacks up on the Bertha Parker Bypass in Tahlequah.

It’s the hottest time of the year in Oklahoma, making it a bad time to get stuck on the side of the road with car trouble.

There are some precautions drivers can take to prevent their vehicles from overheating, though. One part they will want to ensure is working is the fan clutch, as is pulls air through the radiator and condenser, said Steven Guinn of Steve’s Service Shop.

“So if your air conditioner is getting warm when you’re coming up to a stop sign, it may be because you’re not pulling enough air through there,” he said. “It works great when you’re going down the road because you’re actually forcing air through the radiator, but when you’re sitting at a stop sign, there’s no force except the fan pulling air through it.”

Drivers will also want to be sure their cooling systems are sealed properly. If there is a leak in the system, a car will begin to overheat because it’s losing coolant. A small hole that gradually leaks coolant may go unnoticed.

Guinn advises to check the thermostat.

“If a thermostat is stuck open, that can be be detrimental because the engine will never allow the water to cool that’s in the radiator. So you want to make sure you have a good thermostat," he said.

Drivers should keep a close eye on the temperature gauge, too. If the needle reaches past three-quarters, the vehicle should be pulled over and allowed to cool. Guinn said those having overheating issues will also want to check the coolant sensor.

“When you’re driving around and have coolant inside your car, it’s rushing past that coolant sensor,” he said. “At some point, it’s going to have a film and it won’t read correctly. So you want to make sure you at least check it if you’re having an overheating problem.”

It’s important for batteries to be up to snuff, too. If a car is running on low voltage, some of the components won’t have enough juice to give accurate readings about the car’s temperature. A car not getting the appropriate voltage will cause it to work hard and can overheat it.

Having the appropriate level of coolant is important, but so is keeping clean coolant. So the radiator should be flushed about every three years, said Guinn.

If a vehicle does start to overheat, the driver should pull over, but use caution when analyzing the vehicle. Guinn said the drivers should let cars cool down before removing the radiator caps, because they might find themselves going to the hospital with third-degree burns.

“Then be careful and use a rag or something to hold over the top of your radiator cap so you don’t burn yourself," he said. "The first thing I would probably do would be to reach up and grab the radiator hose and see if there’s pressure on it. If there’s pressure on it, definitely do not open it.”

The next thing Guinn would do is turn off his air conditioner. In an emergency spot, he said, the driver could always turn the heater on while going down the road.

“I know it’s going to get hot in the car, but at least you’re keeping your engine cool so you’re not going to possibly pay out that big repair. It will disperse the heat," he said. "If you do have an overheating condition, address it right away. It may lead to something worse like head gaskets, which can hit a pocket book pretty hard sometimes if you have to replace it.”

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